How to Organize a Backcountry Ski Trip

Eight Parts:Assessing capabilities of the groupChoosing the skiing locationPreparing the groupTransportationAccommodationsPlanning the skiing routeSustenanceClothing

Backcountry skiing allows you to enjoy the outdoors without fighting the crowds and chairlifts at a downhill ski area. Like planning other vacations, however, organizing a backcountry ski trip can take substantial amounts of time. It is possible to plan a ski trip that is fun, safe and affordable for all members of the group by following a few basic guidelines.

Part 1
Assessing capabilities of the group

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    Determine the skiing ability of all members who intend to form a part of the group. You need to know the skill level of the least experienced member of your group. This person determines how hard you can push everyone and the type of terrain and length of the skiing trip that you can propose. As with a hike, the slowest and least capable person determines the group's entire pace and if there is a skier incapable of skiing certain terrain, this can become a liability if not accounted for at the outset. Determining basic expertise level will ensure that the trip is safe and enjoyable for all.
    • It is okay to include a challenge for members willing to undertake to push themselves that bit further. However, you all need to know and recognize that this is what is intended and still make allowances for it.

Part 2
Choosing the skiing location

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    Choose a travel destination. Be prepared to put in decent effort and time in finding an appropriate location. The location should not only match the abilities of all group members but should be a place that provides everyone with a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, learn something new and even push themselves a little.
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    Find an area that is picturesque, safe and affordable. Contact local outfitting companies for information regarding avalanche risks during particular times of the year. They should also be able to provide guidance as to weather trends and regional affordability.

Part 3
Preparing the group

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    Brush up on backcountry skiing familiarity. Those who have never gone skiing in the backcountry should consider taking a community class to ensure safety. This will enable them to learn rescue actions, understand what to do when you get lost and coping with dangers such as avalanches. If you don't have access to a class, arrange a night or a few nights for learning from the more advanced members of the group. Use YouTube videos to demonstrate dangers and rescue techniques, as well as physically practicing some of these techniques.
    • Backcountry skiing training and safety classes are often offered at local universities and even some outdoor recreation stores. These classes can be taken for a reasonable fee, although the purchase of some safety tools may be required.
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    Have a safety plan in place. Be sure to leave a note with a trusted friend or family member regarding the location of the ski trip, the estimated length of the vacation and the time the participants are expected to return home. This information can be essential for rapid outdoor rescue in the event of an emergency.

Part 4

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    Decide how you're all getting to the location. You have the option of your own transport or catching public transportation, depending on what is available. Some things to consider include:
    • If you are driving, is your car roadworthy for snow and ice? Do you have snow tires and/or chains? Is the car in good condition?
    • Is there a need for more than one car? Would it make sense to hire a bigger vehicle and share the costs around?
    • If you are taking public transportation, what will you need to do about getting to any out-of-the-way locations once you arrive at the main town or location near that area?
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    Ensure that the transport you choose has sufficient space. You'll need room for the ski gear, any food/drink, changes of clothing and, of course, the passengers.

Part 5

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    Consider where you'll stay on arrival. Presuming you arrive at a nearby town to begin with, a motel is probably a good start. As a group, you might be able to get a group discount at a nearby motel but equally, since you are a group, you will probably need to book ahead to ensure that you all get a place.
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    Check out huts. When you're actually skiing backcountry, if your trip is more than the day, you'll need overnight shelter. Find out what huts are in the area you're skiing and how to book them or use them. This will also affect your route planning, as clearly you'll need to factor in the location of huts if using them.
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    Consider winter camping. Tents are a possibility if the conditions are right and all members of the group know how to winter camp. This can be tough on everyone and there are risks, such as avalanches and severe cold, so each member must be aware of what to do to create a safe camp.
    • Snow caves are an option but are very tiring to build. They are best kept for an emergency.

Part 6
Planning the skiing route

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    Get a decent map of the area before all else. At least two members of the group, and preferably all members of the group, should know how to map read and find their way with a compass. GPS might not work where you are going.
    • Does the map show skiing routes at all? These are handy to make use of.
    • Look online for suggestions from others who have already skied the area. Learn from their experiences to guide your own. In particular, find out about potential hazards and how to avoid these.
    • Contact the local parks office or tourist office to find out more information.
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    Plan the route. Once you have the map and background information that you need, plan a route that is doable by all members of the group. Factor in everyone's skill, the time it normally takes and add a little extra time for safety.
    • Are there any features you want to see while on the trip, such as a photography opportunity? Include these in the route planning.
    • Do not plan to push on after dark; while headlamps can show some of the way, this is dangerous and it is the time for resting and regaining your energy.

Part 7

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    Plan to pack energy food and water. Include high fat content food, such as chocolate, energy bars, jerky and nuts. Carry a small stove suitable for winter cooking to allow you to heat up meals for lunch and dinner; the camping package meals are ideal.
    • Water bottles should be insulated to prevent the water from freezing. You do need to drink often when skiing, even if it doesn't feel like it.
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    If staying in a hut, find out in advance what cooking facilities it has. This will help you to plan what food to carry.
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    Spread the weight of food and water evenly between group members' packs. If someone is able to carry more due to greater strength, that is fine but it is important that everyone has some form of food on them, just in case they get separated.

Part 8

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    Wear appropriate clothing for skiing in cold conditions. If you don't already know what to wear, a reputable sports store that outfits skiers will be able to advise you. For a long trip, changes of clothing will be required but even for a day trip, a spare pair of socks and extra gloves can't hurt to carry.
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    Have adequate head, face and hand protection. These areas will be your Achilles heel if not properly covered while skiing. Balaclavas are a good choice for the head, as they cover both face and head and there are many modern fabrics and designs to choose from.
    • Many skiers choose to layer gloves and mittens for optimal warmth.
    • Helmet wearing is dependent on the speed and type of skiing the group will be doing. Discuss this with your group ahead of the trip.

Article Info

Categories: Snow Skiing